From 1951-2007 Auburn competed in 645 football games with six different head football coaches. Of the 645 games in the books, 225 of them have been settled by seven points or less. Auburn has been victorious in 62 percent of the "close" games, posting a 133-79-1 record.
Of the six Auburn coaches, Tommy Tuberville has been involved in the most "close" ball games. Forty-one of Tuberville's 113 games (36.3 percent) at Auburn have gone down to the wire. Terry Bowden was second with 35.4 percent of his games being settled by seven points or less.
Tuberville and Auburn have accumulated a 28-13 record in "close" games, giving him the highest win percentage of all of the most recent Auburn coaches.
Not only has Tuberville fared better than his predecessors, he also has the higher win percentage in close games against quality opponents. Auburn, under Tuberville, has compiled a 21-13 record in close games against quality opponents. Of the six Auburn coaches listed above, Tuberville is the only one with a winning percentage higher than .600. Over the last four seasons Auburn is 10-4 in close games against quality opponents or teams with winning records.
Around the Southeastern Conference
During his current nine-year run Tuberville has proven to be Auburn's best coach in close ball games but how does he compare to his counterparts within the conference? Over the past nine years (1999-2007), only LSU has posted a better winning percentage than Auburn in games settled by seven points or less. LSU has a current record of 26-11, slightly better than Auburn's 28-13 record.
Coach Nick Saban was 14-4 while at LSU but posted a 4-6 record last year at Alabama. Coach Les Miles of LSU is currently 12-4 and Urban Meyer is 9-4 at Florida. Meyer's record at Florida in close games is impressive but Tuberville was 9-5 while at Ole Miss from 1995-1998 with a depleted roster hammered by NCAA sanctions.
Steve Spurrier ruled the SEC during his 12 years at the University of Florida but he was only 17-12-1 in close ball games and is currently 8-9 at South Carolina.
Overall, Tuberville is 37-18-0 in close games during his 13 years at Ole Miss and Auburn combined, which is better than Fulmer's record of 41-20-1 at Tennessee from 1992-2007. Mark Richt enters his ninth season at the University of Georgia and the Bulldogs are 23-15 in games settled by seven points or less.
What does this all mean?
One could argue Auburn has been involved in more close ball games under Tuberville because his teams were not prepared or lacked talent. From 1999-2007, 36.3 percent of Auburn's games were settled by seven points or less. If this is any indication of weakness, 40 percent of LSU's games under Miles have been settled by seven points or less. Richt is currently at 36.9 percent, Fulmer is at 31.7 percent and Meyer is at 33.3 percent. Saban at LSU and Alabama combined is at 36.4 percent.
If there is any true meaning of Tuberville's record in close games, it has more to do with his conservative approach to the game than anything else. When he was at Ole Miss, his teams lacked depth and talent, which forced his hand to become conservative on offense and defense, sprinkled in with the occasional trick play on special teams to even the odds. The same could be said when he first arrived at Auburn with the task of rebuilding a program that was headed in the wrong direction in terms of talent.
Tuberville's teams have always been built around the running game, a sound defense and special teams. After nine years at the helm of the Tigers, the talent level is back to where Auburn can compete for conference titles. In the last four years, Auburn is 12-4 in close ball games, a far cry from the 16-9 record compiled from 1999-2003. His conservative approach to his game planning has become a strength when the games are close in the final period, which is indicative of his record against top 10 ranked opponents. Auburn is 9-3 over the past four seasons against teams ranked in the top 10.
A new direction…
There have been no shortcuts in rebuilding Auburn's football program under Tuberville, and Auburn currently has the fifth highest winning percentage in the nation over the last four years. He said from the outset it would not be easy and it would not be a quick fix but in the end, but Auburn would again be successful.
Tuberville's staff has proven to be motivated and their recruitment and development of personnel has been as good as anyone in the conference during his tenure at Auburn. The Tigers are 69-7 when leading or tied at halftime, including 57-2 from 2000-2006. Overall, Tuberville's teams have a higher winning percentage when leading at halftime than Dye, Jordan and Bowden. This is a strong indicator of overall preparation by Auburn's football staff. However, Auburn is 11-26 when trailing at halftime.
This has resulted in changes in the coaching staff despite a 6-6 record over the last four years when trailing at halftime. The talent and depth is now at a point where Tuberville no longer needs to take risks or to remain conservative, especially on offense.
The hiring of Tony Franklin as Auburn's offensive coordinator clearly reveals Tuberville is moving in a new direction offensively. The defense has finished in the top 10 nationally in scoring defense for the last five seasons and the time has come for Auburn to improve offensively. Perhaps the Auburn faithful will now see Tuberville taking risks on offense, not because they have to but simply because he is confident Auburn can afford to do it.